Chronic Wasting Disease Not Seen in Idaho
Monday, February 5, 2001 - 12:00 AM MST
Chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain disorder of deer and elk, has not been seen in Idaho. Recent reports in national media including Time magazine and National Public Radio linked "mad cow disease" and the occurrence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in western big game, suggesting that people who eat big game animals might be at risk. However, these reports may lead people to inaccurate conclusions. Wildlife Veterinarian Mark Drew said CWD has been identified in free-ranging deer and elk only in a relatively small area of southeastern Wyoming and northern Colorado. One deer with CWD was recently identified in Nebraska in the same general geographical area as the Colorado and Wyoming cases. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has had a surveillance program for CWD in deer and elk since 1997 and plans to expand its sampling program this year because of concerns about the disease, he added. No wild deer or elk tested so far in Idaho have been shown to have CWD. CWD has been confirmed in a few domesticated elk in Canada and the U.S. Dr. Drew noted that domestic game farm operations in Idaho are regulated by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Fish and Game. State regulations for domestic game farms are currently being revised and strengthened in Idaho to require mandatory testing for CWD in all dead elk and 25% of the animals that are slaughtered for meat or harvested on shooting operations. Dr. Drew said signs of CWD in deer and elk include weight loss, emaciation and abnormal behavior. Scientists do not yet understand how CWD is transmitted from animal to animal or how to prevent the spread of the disease. However, because no animals with CWD have been found in Idaho, the possibility of the disease being found is small. Hunters are advised to avoid harvesting animals that are obviously sick or acting strangely. Latex or rubber gloves should be worn when field dressing wild game, Dr. Drew added. Editor's note: The following is intended for background.